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Lost in the woods

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Armed with stubborn determination, legendary strength, and courage, a mighty young warrior made haste after his Fiancée’s captors, who’d abducted her in the night. Why an Unseelie witch-knight of Pride would make off with a mortal maiden was anyone’s guess, but he was not about to let them get away with it.

Agarth single-mindedly followed the path, what little tracks were left would surely be enough to lead him to her. He had been marching ever since her capture, he was a hero after all, and rescuing damsels came with the territory, especially if this was his own bride to be. The young warrior stormed his way through the undergrowth, his sights set on the mission ahead, his mind deeply preoccupied. Though new to these lands, he had seen much of the western Faelands, dinned with its ethereal inhabitants, and shared tea with their King of Kings. This surely wouldn’t be too difficult.

It wasn’t until he noticed an uneasy silence had befallen the forested swamp, that the Blade of Avgruun momentarily slowed his pace. The disconcerting sense of being watched sent chills down his spine. A quick glance in every which way, over his shoulder, into the branches overhead, none settled him. “Easy lad…You’ve been through worse…” He whispered to himself, an attempt soothe his nerve. “They’re probably just curious…”
He knew he was deep in Fae territory, Klurikon was notorious for swallowing up its visitors, never to be seen again, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him. And so he pressed on, ever more determined, following the winding ways of traveling beasts for ease of foot but accompanied by a chill that had his hairs stand on end.

A while had passed, the tracks he had been following till now no longer shared their story, for he had stumbled on his own once again. Confused, the warrior looked where he had come from only to notice the prints he had been following were no longer there, the meandering animal-worn trackway now stretched as straight as an arrow. He glanced back at the direction he had been heading; the once clear path was now overgrown with thorny vines.
The once open path now felt suffocating, the deadly chill of untimely midnight shadows creeping ever closer. Everything was dark, as if by a moonless night.
“Damned Fae and their magic…” he grumbled, though this was no magic of the likes of the Western Fae, the young man knew this, it was nothing he recognized. He had spent is his fair share of time with the Seelie, enough at least to know their way of being; he knew of their oft mischievous nature. But this? This was the land of the Unseelie, this was altogether different. Agarth reached for the hilt of his sword but paused. The Fae could be capricious creatures at times. “I mean you or your forest no harm, old one; I only seek to reach my destination.” He spoke into the tangle of vines and branches, his tone belying his increasing unease.

The young warrior glanced all around him, steadying his stance. Fae or not, he would need to be ready for the worst, he was out of his element. And so he waited, perhaps for a reply or an attack, whichever came first…

This silence was deafening.

Unbeknownst to him, his clamorous march had awoken a winter spirit from its slumber. An eternal being Ice and Shadow, a predator who donned the endless darkened forest and snowy mountain peeks in guise. It had followed this mortal interloper into its home, deep into the treacherous and suffocating swamp, away from the light and soothing warmth of the sun.

“Leave this place Child of Dust, lest you wish to serve as this bog’s next supper.”

Finally, a response. Agarth let go of a breath he hadn’t been aware of holding. Now he knew what he was dealing with, somewhat at least. “Not until I achieve what it is I set out to do.” Despite this, the youngster had little idea as to where the Fae was hiding; their voice seemingly came from all around. Again, came a long silence. He groaned in frustration. ”I haven’t time for games.”

“I shan’t ask you thrice mortal, leave.” Did that come from behind him? Agarth spun on his heels, only to discover his senses had been tricked. How could he leave with his path barred by thorns in every direction? It was as if the very swamp was scheming to keep him there, at the mercy of this potentially dangerous Fae. But this was their domain after all and he was a trespasser. Perhaps a different approach was required.

“I’m only here to find someone important to me, after that, I shall leave promptly. But perhaps, we could meet under better terms? Should you care to share who you are?” A hopeful gambit perhaps, but the warrior knew he had little chance of escape should this Fae turn violent, so just maybe, appealing to their pride would draw the Unseelie out.

“I am the one who paints in red, the misery of my brethren, upon a blanket of fresh snow. Only those whose voices are silent from death may know my name. Perhaps when you join your lost kin, I might tell you then.” Charming…the well-traveled man had heard tales of the Winter Fae's grim and darker nature, but hearing it from their own mouths sent a shiver up his spine. Agarth was certain of one thing, this Fae was potentially very dangerous; he’d have to tread carefully but he couldn’t fight an opponent he couldn’t see. He was already at enough of a disadvantage as is.

“I would like to at least have the honor of meeting my first Unseelie face to face, even if you don’t wish to share your name.” The young warrior waited for a response but only silence was his prize. He stood there for a moment, peering into the shadows around him. It wasn’t long before the sounds of insects and birds chassed the suffocating darkness away, the noon sun seeping through the dense foliage. Still, the man was left confused. Was the Fae gone? Did they get bored? Could he have really been that lucky? He waited for a while longer to be sure, until he noticed the path he had previously been following had returned to its former state, tracks included. Be damned to that Fae, Agarth had his Fiancée to rescue, and so, continued on his trek through the dark backwaters of Klurikon, with renewed resolve.

Several hours passed, the sun was beginning to dip into the horizon. The young Verani warrior knew this trek had gone on longer than it should have, and if he didn’t get to her by nightfall, he’d have little chance of leaving the noxious swamp alive, let alone finding his betrothed, but rushing could be equally as deadly. Still, he took the risk; the ground was dryer, with little chance of getting stuck in the mud, so he quickened his pace.

The growing evening shadows, cast by the gnarled moss-covered trees, formed unsettling humanoid shapes with clawed hands upon the ground and rocks. He took a moment to observe them, the wind making them move as if performing some sort of hypnotic yet haunting dance. That dreaded sense of being watched was creeping its way back into his mind, though undeterred this time, he pressed on.

Agarth had barely made it a few paces further before catching a glint of bright light from the corner of his vision. With barely an instant to react, the warrior practically flung himself to avoid the attack, feeling the icy burn of his assailant being far too close for comfort. Catching himself, he rolled back onto his feet, drawing his sword in the same motion. It was at that moment he felt the cold sting on his cheek. He reached to touch the area. Blood…Too close for comfort indeed.
Once again the forest itself seemed bent with dark intent, as it closed around him, swallowing him in inky shadows and bitter cold, with his attacker being nowhere to be seen. “Damn it, I don’t have time for this…” He mumbled in frustration.

“What word of ‘Leave this place’ do you not understand, Dustling?” That voice again, echoing all around very much as it had before, only this time, with genuine nightfall on the way. The young warrior was generally compassionate with the Fae, they were different after all. Their sense of time was fairly alien and so was their understanding and concept of death. But right at that moment? His patience had worn thin, his frustration bubbling over.

“ For a Fae that’s supposedly done a lot of killing, you evidently do a lot of hiding. I’m not impressed. How about you come out and face me with honor instead?” Agarth shouted sternly, with a will to put an end to this nonsense.
“What do you take me for? One of those troupers across the water?” Came a barking response. “No.” The disembodied voice was loud, painful even, seeping into every fiber of the warrior's being, echoing from everywhere, almost as if from within his’s own mind. “Ye’re in MY forest…We’ll do things... My. Way. ” With the last words, the shadows crept closer and ever colder.

Undeterred and defiant, Blade of Avgruun, a hero of men, the warrior refused to budge. “I’m not playing your little game any longer, come out of your damnable shadows and face me or else leave me to my task!” Silence followed, a long pause, before the engulfing shadows retreated once more, only leaving their bitter chill behind. Agarth stood there for a while longer, as the path opened back up, expecting another ambush. As brave as he was, he really just wanted to get away from this relentless Fae that he now knew was toying with him. The unnerving, unnatural shadows, the bitter cold, worse than anything he’d ever experienced as a boy, and this was a tropical swamp of all places, far from the frozen peaks of Alabastra. It all left him with a strange sense of dread he’d never quite felt before.

Once he felt certain the Unseelie had either moved on or chosen to let him be, for now, the youngster opted to hurry along, his path was clear and time was running short. “Damn pain in the arse of a Fae you are…” He grumbled under his breath before only getting the chance to take a single step. “I heard that.” Came the voice again, but this time, from behind, whispered directly into the Verani’s ear.
“Lyria’s tits!” Startled, the otherwise skilled fighter spun and swung his sword only to find there was nothing. Taking a moment to recompose himself, the Verani stood tall once again. “Enough of this, I haven’t the time for you.”

“Why not? Aren’t you having fun? I am.” Came the voice from overhead, somewhere hidden amongst the branches.

Agarth let out an audible groan of frustration, turning to head on his way. He paused. There! Nonchalantly leaning against a tree on the path ahead! That damnable Fae that had been tormenting him all day, looking infuriatingly smug! “Why you son of a--” the youngster began to growl before being interrupted.

“Ah, stop yer snarlin’… Yer different, so I’ll let you go…Vast majority of mortals would have broke a long time ago. I’ve had my fun…“ The strange Fae offered with a raised brow.

“Thank you for the backhanded compliment, I guess...but” Agarth grumbled, keep a glaring eye on this pesky creature as if it would jump up and bite him, while beginning to make his way past the onlooking Unseelie. “As nice as it was to finally get to meet you face to face, I don’t have time for anymore gaAAAMES!” the young mans voice increased a few octaves as no sooner than the Fae was no longer within his sight, an unnaturally sharp-looking Faeblade was jammed into the neighboring rock, mere inches for the man’s nose. What was it about this Fae that turned him from a fiercely skilled warrior, foreign to fear, to what amounts to a panicky amateur? The young warrior didn’t like it, not at all, but he knew there was little he could do about it.

“Yer might have gotten there quicker if you knew where yer were going. Why, I’ve spent the whole day watching ya walk in circles.” Despite the potential threat, The Fae’s attic wit caught the young warrior off guard.
After a moment, Agarth took a step back and glared at the Unseelie, this pest seemingly was still in the mood for toying with him. “No thanks to your meddling, you damn snake. What more do you want from me?”

“I hear yer looking for Racinon. As fate would have it, so am I.” The Winter sprite gave the mortal a quick once-over with a smirk. “And by the state of you…heh, well, ye look like you could use the help.”

The young Verani blinked a few times, puzzled. “How do you…”
The Fae of Ice and Shadow only chuckled before tapping the side of his own nose. “A good rogue never gives up their secrets.” He answered with a characteristic head tilt, his gently glowing white hair accentuating his movements. “Now come, I’m fairly certain I have more time on my hands than you and yer maiden.” And with that, the Fae set off, not waiting for the mortal to decide.

Agarth watched him go by then reluctantly followed his newfound travel companion. Truth be told, if anyone could help him find his fiancée in time to save her, and to help them to both leave alive, it would be one of the elusive locals.